On 30th July 2013, the Congress-led UPA govt opened a Pandora’s Box by giving their stamp of approval on the creation of Telangana, thus validating a struggle for separate state that had been rocking the political scene of Andhra for over half a century. Although the decision brought smiles on the faces of the people of Telangana region, it ignited unprecedented and widespread violence across the country, specially in the Hills of Darjeeling in West Bengal.
Ever since the current government came to power in Bengal, the focus of the administration, led by the Chief Minister, had been to reach out to the people of North Bengal, who had been ignominiously ignored by the Left Front government for three long decades. From roads to basic amenities, education to infrastructure development, the districts of North Bengal had always been subject to a step-motherly attitude from Kolkata.
Post 2011, there was a paradigm shift in the way the WB administration viewed or treated Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar or Dinajpur and Malda. From instituting a separate ministry for North Bengal development to setting up a Secretariat in Siliguri, the government made all the right noises. That their intent was positive was shown by the CM’s visits to the Hills or Dooars almost regularly. The current government has even unfurled a host of developmental agenda for the backward districts that form North Bengal, including setting up of colleges and laying the foundation of an industry hub in Banarhat.
The demand for Gorkhaland is not new. Since the establishment of Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council, presided over by Subhash Ghishing, in 1987, the separate state movement has always been used as a carrot by the political parties in the Hills to consolidate their votes during elections. Arson and violence follows a 5-year cycle here, where the Gorkha leaders embark on a “final battle” for Gorkhaland, sacrifice the lives of youths, throw public life out of gear, sound the death knell for commerce and tourism, putting the livelihood of thousands at stake, and then go into slumber for next half a decade.
The demand for Gorkhaland would’ve been pertinent even five years back. But now, with the autonomous Gorkhaland Territorial Administration, the Gorkha Jana Mukti Morcha has no legit reason to call for separation. They wanted power; GTA has been showered with that. They wanted development; both the central and state government have earmarked funds worth hundreds of crores for GTA (centre had cleared annual grant of Rs 200 crore while WB govt in its annual budget for the fiscal allowed Rs 150 crores for development of GTA areas). What transpired in this one year that GJM had to take this tough stand? What have they done with the GTA funds? Do they have any developmental achievements to boast of?
That the WB govt is truly empathetic towards Nepali aspirations was demonstrated by the decision of the CM to start schools with Nepali as the medium of instruction. The birthday of great Nepali littérateur Bhanu Bhakt is celebrated pomp that equals Rabindranath or Nazrul. Nepali is also recognized as one of the official languages in conducting the business of the Assembly. Why then is there a need for Nepali speaking brothers and sisters to feel alienated in a Bengali-majority state? The aspirations of development and identity politics that Gorkhas clamour for can be met by GTA with ease. They need to give it time, and send honest, committed leaders to represent the masses in the council, and not self-serving ones.
In the end, I would like to sum up with an extract Shankkar Aiyar’s latest column for New Indian Express:
“The cry for smaller states is less about representation and more about real aspirations. Size may matter. Big could be bold and beautiful too. Bigger states like Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu do better by leveraging the state’s output and budgets for intervention and investment. So let’s forget formulaic solutions and worry about formats. In a democracy, every vote is sacrosanct. Voters vote for change, not to be presented with fait accompli. And delivery of governance is dictated by devolution, not dialects. India turns 66 this month. Let not petty political cartography obfuscate the real reasons for failure. Let not India get lost in transmogrification.”
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Bengal has given her verdict loud and clear. Mamata Bannerjee has been entrusted to govern the state for the next five years with a thumping majority. For the first time in 34 years, the Red Citadel has crumbled. And how. Almost everyone i know had moist eyes when Mamata delivered her victory speech and dedicated the victory to Ma, Mati and Manush. The much anticipated moment of change had arrived in Bengal.
This 54 year old lady, from a humble background in Kalighat, surprised everyone with her Lok Sabha win from Jadavpur in 1984. There has been no stopping her since then. From early childhood, we have known only two leaders in Bengal – Jyoti Babu and Mamata Didi. An ace street fighter, she always took up the cause of the people, the oppressed.
Mercurial, maverick, moody, loud, aggressive, the epithets this woman earned over the last 27 years of her struggle would even put the Hindu Gods with 108 odd names to shame. From comparisons to all types of animals to being called a call girl, she has borne it all with silence and resilience. Firm on what she believes is correct, Mamata never budges from her position. Determination and Integrity define the essence of the incumbent Chief Minister of Bengal.
Being a woman in this man’s world and fighting against a system which is completely under the male domain, requires immense guts. Every woman in South East Asia who made it big in politics had a male mentor. From political widow Sonia Gandhi to the political orphan Sheikh Hasina, from Mayawati to JayaLalitha, each one of them capitalised on the experience provided by their male counterparts/guides. Mamata never had any political Guru. She started her career and chartered her course according to her own whims.
From 21 July 1993 (when she narrowly escaped being killed by the police when the latter opened fire on Youth Congress agitation) to Netai, Mamata has come a long way in her struggle. But she has not changed a bit. Clad in the cotton sari, wearing chappals and carrying a bag (which she calls “Jangal Mahal”) Mamata has rushed to the need of people every time circumstances demanded.
People (specially residents of Non Bengali states) remember and visualise Mamata as the woman who drove the Nano out of Bengal. They do not know/want to know the history behind the tragedy. (We can save the Singur debate for some other time. It is now well known that the Left Front government was at fault). Chandmoni’s displaced tea workers, Sain bari’s political martyrs, Nandigram’s hapless villagers, Mamata became synonymous with Messiah. She became the alternative that the people of Bengal were waiting for.
Mamata is the answer to CPI-M’s arrogance. Mamata is the answer to CPI-M’s state sponsored terror. Mamata is the answer to Unnoto toro Bam Front. In Bengal where development means an increased floor to the CPI-M party office, Mamata’s frugal lifestyle is a matter of envy for many. Across religions, across castes, across genders, across all divides, people reposed their faith in Mamata, their faith in democracy. The time has come for the fighter to don the administrative hat (she has already done that with her stint as Minister in the Union government, not once but on multiple occasions, but every time she resigned to come back to Bengal and fight the terror machinery emanating out of Alimuddin Street in Kolkata).
Never before have i felt so liberated, so euphoric, so emotional. Not even on 2 July 2009 when homosexuality was decriminalised. We are indebted to her for making us have faith in Change.
Aaj aami matha tule dariye bolte pari ami Bangali. Kalima lipto 34 er ondhokar, Bijoy dhwani te obosan. Punorutthan hobe Banglar. Aj amar protibad korar odhikar ache, aj amar nijer kotha bolar odhikar ache, aj amai parar dada, rastar mastan, beyadop autowallah’r theke bhoy pete hobe na, aj Bangla abar saadhin holo
The road ahead is full of thorns, but people are with her. All the best to Mukhyo Mantri Mamata Bannerjee. Or as she prefers, sudhui Mamata.
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